If I Were Not A Teacher…

…would I look at this problem differently? Let’s just say that I am a nurse. I have a certain number of patients to see each day. Although they are all human and have the same basic goal…to stay alive and healthy….they all have different needs. The health program that I work for has dictated how I am allowed to treat my patients and basically, they must all receive the same care. The care I give them will keep them alive, but only a few of them will actually prosper under this care. I give the care with all of the love, caring, patience and passion for healing that I can….but, in truth, I can only do so much.

My patients’ progress is checked using a variety of tests on a regular basis. I am evaluated on how much progress my patients are making. Has their blood pressure gone down? Has their weight gone down? Has the number of flights of stairs they can climb gone up? The tests are the same for every patient, because, under this system, there is one basic definition of healthy.

They all receive the same meals, the same vitamins, the same exercise routine. Although, for some of them there are real challenges: Food allergies, previously existing vitamin deficiencies, prior injuries that make the prescribed exercises difficult, if not impossible. I’d like to help them, but the administration will not give me time, money nor resources to do that. I do what I can, but I just don’t have the time and money to really make a difference.

Other patients have a great deal of support from outside of the facility. They have family and friends who bring them fresh fruits and vegetables. They have always been encouraged to be fit. When they were injured in the past, their injuries were treated immediately and healed well.

There are emotional differences as well. Some patients are determined to do well. Some are encouraged by cards, calls, emails and visits. Some remember what it was like to be healthy and work hard to get back to that. Others work hard to do well and get out where they can take charge of their own health; buy their own food, design their own treatment.

Then there are those who seem happy to just stay here. They are eating better here and exercising more here than they ever had in the past. Getting too healthy too fast would mean having to leave. Without all of the help and support here, without the access to a decent diet and good exercise routines, how will they cope? These things do not exist in their communities. And their communities are where their families and friends are. Their communities are what they know.

Some figure why bother? Why eat well here? Why do all of this exercise? When I leave I won’t have any of it anyway. They just want to get it over with and get out. At least outside no one is telling them that they are lazy and stupid because they haven’t been able to eat and exercise in a world that can’t afford them those luxuries.

Even worse are the patients that cannot improve on the diet and exercise regimen that I am forced to make them follow. If you cannot physically digest the food and you cannot stay upright to do the exercise routine, it is frustrating and defeating to have to do eat and move every day. The message to them is clear: If you aren’t ‘normal” you don’t matter to us.

But they all matter to me. Every one. That is why I became a nurse. So it is painful to attend repeated trainings on how I could do what I am required to do, better. Actually, I already do most of what they are telling me is the latest and greatest way to heal patients, but if I mention that I am considered a “know it all” or worse, insubordinate. I’m told that if I really were doing these things, my patients would have better numbers. I ask for the research that proves that what we are supposed to be doing works. I’m asked not to be so negative. I’m told again that I am in danger of being seen as insubordinate.

I love my patients. I like my colleagues. Most of them are trying as hard as I am to do the right thing. I like having a job. I have to have a job. I thought I would like this one. I chose it because I thought I had the talent and the passion to make a difference as a nurse. I didn’t know that it would become a job where I could not nurse anyone.

I don’t know. Does it sound as awful to you as it does to me when I write from the perspective of a nurse? My students are as vital, as fragile, as important and just as human as a nurse’s patients would be. This is what it is like to be a teacher that can no longer teach. It is exhausting and heartbreaking to see the very people you wanted to support be used as part of someone else’s achievement plan.

with love,
(My mother recently retired after working 55 years as a nurse so I am aware of what is also going on in the healthcare world….my love and admiration to those of you working there.)


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